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Best in the Nation–Spotlight on Alumna Kari Newman

Belltower at NC State University.

At the College of Education, we train our students to become outstanding educators. Some of our alumni, such as Kari Newman, are so phenomenal that the President of the United States recognizes them.

Newman is one of 108 teachers across the nation who received this year’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the highest honor given by the White House to K-12 teachers. In addition to receiving a paid trip to Washington, D.C., and a recognition ceremony with the President, recipients of this award also receive a $10,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Newman, who received her master’s in science education from the college, teaches AP chemistry and other science electives such as forensic science, epidemiology and material science at Durham Academy. Learn more about her 19-year career as an educator and how the College of Education helped her along the way:

What does winning this award mean to you?

If you choose to do something, you should do your best work and seek opportunities to grow and learn. I believe that great teachers do not become great on their own, nor do they ever stop learning. I have been fortunate to find a school that supports my classroom choices and helps me grow by providing opportunities to collaborate with passionate colleagues both in and out of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The Presidential Award is proof that my efforts to do my best, in a profession I love, have been recognized.

How did your time at the College of Education prepare you for your career as an educator? 

Kari Newman
Kari Newman

My time at the College of Education was interesting because I was teaching and going to school. I had a lateral entry license because I did not major in education as an undergrad. The classes I took and the professors I worked with all helped me gain a better understanding for what it takes to be a teacher—it is way more than just content! The College of Education helped me see who I was educating and made me look at exactly what I was doing in the classroom. Some of my best classes were the ones that made me take video of myself teaching and then really watch how I interacted with the students. Believe me, this step was much harder before iPhones came out!

How do you encourage a love of STEM in your students?

I encourage a love of STEM by loving it myself, by getting involved with Science Olympiad, and by reading up on the newest technologies and trying to incorporate those ideas in class. I really work at making sure the students see that chemistry (or any science) is not just a class they take, but it is everywhere.

What motivates you to teach?

I am motivated by the kids that ask questions—the ones that want to know the connections between what they’ve experienced and what we are doing in class. Every day is different and that makes it fun.

What is your biggest achievement thus far in your career?

My biggest achievement has to be this award! I also love when my students come back to visit from college or for a reunion and they say “thank you” for something. That is my favorite time. It reminds me that I am doing something for someone every single day and while they may not appreciate it in high school, they do recognize later in life that whatever it was had an impact on them.

What advice do you have for students considering a career in education?

If you are considering a career in education, you really have to ask yourself why you are doing it. You have to love helping people, really enjoy the topic/subject you are teaching, and recognize that you are never done learning. If you do the same exact thing for five, 10 or 20 years, you will get bored. If you get bored, your students will see that what you are trying to teach them is boring. Attend conferences, meet fellow teachers, ask questions about how someone teaches a topic, and work with new technologies. I have learned that if you find what you are passionate about and incorporate it into your classes, you are more authentic, and your students will want to learn more from you. They won’t remember all the content in 10 years, but they will remember your passion and how you encouraged them to do something they thought they couldn’t do.